The Boots to Business workshop and American Legion Resume Writing Workshop is held during the annual Washington Conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, February 24, 2017. Photo by Noel St. John.

Legion strives to continue advocacy efforts for life after service

The American Legion’s National Veterans Employment and Education (VE&E) Division in Washington, D.C., is working hard to ensure that veterans receive a fair and equal opportunity to succeed in civilian life by focusing on five key areas, including employment, education, credentialing, small business development and veteran homelessness.

Employment. The Legion serves veterans and servicemembers who seek meaningful civilian careers after discharge through hundreds of job fairs nationwide, which are conducted by local posts or in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Hiring Our Heroes initiative and other national efforts. Last year, the Legion participated in a milestone Hiring Our Heroes event in Fort Bragg, N.C., which was the 1,000th event since the nationwide initiative launched six years ago, according to the Legion’s 2016 Annual Report.

When it comes to key relationships, VE&E staff work with corporate partners to promote and execute veteran job fairs and career expos nationwide. Some of these partners include Military.com, Avue Technologies, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and StreetShares. “We want to make sure that folks are employed and have an opportunity once they transition,” said VE&E Assistant Director Ariel De Jesus. “Both the public and private sector … are two different spaces, two different resumes and obviously different opportunities. It can take three to six months, or longer, to get in the federal government. But the private sector side is where most of the jobs are. We want to (help) folks (be) prepared for that.”

Education. During the Legion’s Washington Conference this year, approximately 30 transitioning veterans and servicemembers attended an entrepreneurship workshop on Feb. 24, called Boots to Business Reboot, which covered the basics with starting or growing a small business using the following eight modules:

1. Introduction to Business Ownership

2. Basics of Opportunity Recognition

3. Understanding Markets and Your Own Competitive Space

4. The Economics of Small Business Start-Up

5. Picking the Correct Legal Entity for Your Business

6. Financing the Venture

7. Introduction to Business Planning

8. Moving Forward: Resources to Support You

“Reboot basically offers an overview of business ownership as a career vocation,” said Kaitlin Gray, VE&E assistant director. “Participants received an entrepreneurship workbook, a feasibility planning booklet, business ownership booklet and a resource guide for leveraging the nuts and bolts to business planning.”

Mark Williams, program manager of the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program who led the workshop, said one of the challenges is finding veterans who are interested in entrepreneurship as it’s difficult for the SBA to do that. “But The American Legion is touching those veterans. They’re going to their (posts),” Williams said. “Providing (Boots to Business) on a local level and going where the people are … is kind of what we’re trying to do.”

Credentialing. On Feb. 23, more than 50 employers and others received updates on credentialing practices during a national roundtable hosted by the Legion during its 57th annual Washington Conference. The roundtable event coincided with a release of the Legion’s report, “The State of Credentialing of Service Members and Veterans: Challenges, Successes and Opportunities,” funded by a grant from Military.com and prepared by SOLID, LLC.

According to a Military.com article, the Legion’s report noted the growing awareness among U.S. lawmakers of the need to provide troops with civilian licenses and certifications required for employment. It identified the following opportunities for action that can help soldiers succeed in civilian life:

• Improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill Licensing and Certification Benefit (to pro-rate the amount charged to the cost of the exam);

• Ensure quality of certification programs;

• Ensure quality of the nontraditional credential preparation programs;

• Better identify labor market demand for credentials;

• Track credential attainment outcomes;

• Reduce state licensure barriers;

• Develop best practices for credentialing servicemembers and veterans; and

• Ensure military and veteran interests are represented in civilian workforce credentialing initiatives.

With the diverse array of stakeholders in the field of licensing and credentialing, VE&E Assistant Director John Kamin said the Legion has a unique role to fulfill for the nation’s servicemembers as a convening authority. “By welcoming leaders from the fields of academia, industry, military and government, we can continue to ensure that credentialing best practices are reviewed and disseminated across multiple sectors,” he said.

Small business development. The Legion’s Small Business Task Force meets regularly to set legislative priorities for the division and advocate on behalf of veteran business owners. “They help us during our small business development workshops, with mentoring as well as with advocacy,” said VE&E Director Joe Sharpe. “They understand some of the policy regulations that can help veteran small business owners all across the country.”

In addition, VE&E staff work closely with the Legion's Legislative Division to advance legislation supported by Legion resolutions, and they work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration, and other government entities on the state and national levels.

Sharpe said the Legion ensures that federal agencies adhere to the three percent utilization goal. “We also advocate for that three percent goal to be raised to a five percent utilization goal,” he said. “We advocate for fairness in federal procurements and contracting practices, as well as for veteran entrepreneurial programs to be adequately funded.”

Veteran homelessness. The Legion coordinates a Homeless Veterans Task Force throughout the 55 departments within the organization. “We all, who have served, understand the duty, the call and the service and the sacrifice it takes,” said Mark Walker, VE&E deputy director. “I think it helps a lot that (the staff here at the Legion) have been through the process and have been deployed before. We’ve seen different things, so we’re looking to assist those veterans in need.”

As America’s largest veterans service organization that is working hard every day to uphold time-honored values, Walker said The American Legion has a strong compassion and desire to help homeless veterans struggling with their transition to civilian life.

“At some point, these homeless individuals were in the military and serving their country,” said Walker. “I think it’s a profound thing to be able to relate to veterans and say, ‘Look, we’ve been there and done that. This is how you transition. This is how we can help you. This is what we know. And if you can sort of connect these dots, you can have a successful reintegration.’”